Economy in the Bible

by Tuvia Pollack

The Hebrew word כלכלה (kalkala) means Economy in Modern Hebrew. To an Israeli it sounds like something current, dealing with figures, money, and stock exchange, but the term has ancient roots from the Bible. Where does it appear, and what does it mean?
In Psalm 55:22, the word is translated as “sustain” in the NASB – “Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you.”
In 1Kings 18:4 it is translated as “provided”: “Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave, and provided them with bread and water.”
We can see the connection to Economy in these passages – it is provision, making a living. This is the case in about 80% of the times that the term is used in the Bible. Joseph provides for his brothers in Egypt. David provides for his concubines. God provides for Elijah in the desert with ravens. The list goes on.
However, as we look through the Bible we find כלכלה in slightly different contexts as well, connected to containing, not just provision. In Isaiah 40:12 it’s translated as “calculate”: “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand ,And marked off the heavens by the span, And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, And weighed the mountains in a balance, And the hills in a pair of scales?”
In 1 Kings 8:27, it’s translated to “contain” when Solomon says “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You.”
In Jeremiah 20:9, it’s translated to “hold in” when Jeremiah says he can’t contain or endure God’s prophecies within him, and in Malachi 3:2 the same word is translated as “endure.”
This can point to the origin of the word – an item such as a basket that was made to contain items was also used for gathering the harvest, and thus an important tool in a person’s provision. There is a passage in the Talmud which forbids a person from putting a “kalkala” under his vine while harvesting, since the leftovers are to be left to the poor. By the context it is clear that this kalkala is some sort of basket.
Strong’s concordance (H3557) traces the root of כלכלה to כול, a root used more specifically about containing, also in Modern Hebrew. There could even be a connection to כל, which means “all,” i.e. something that contains everything.
So כלכלה is really just provision of the needs necessary for life. The modern term economy is merely the modern iteration of the same phenomenon. It’s not the study of money and banks – it’s the study of the ways in which people sustain and provide for themselves. It is no wonder that this is the word that was chosen to be the Modern Hebrew language’s equivalent of Economy. Maybe we should call it “provision” in English too?
If you want to conduct your own study on the Hebrew term כלכלה or any other word, you can do that on our Hebrew Bible study site – pick any language, click any word in the Bible text to see the definition of Strong’s concordance, and then you can choose normal search, advanced search, or root search to see where a term is used and in what context.